A Message from a naturalist hero
Updated: Nov 1, 2021
Beverly Fleming was a St. Johns County naturalist and mentor of mine.
A tear wells up in my eye before my fingers touch these keys as I prepare to share these lessons with you. I’m fascinated with the mind/heart connection and my medium is nature. This is something I shared with Beverly Fleming, who was a local naturalist and one of my mentors. Beverly was much more than most of those who knew her. During her lifetime, she accomplished so much and touched countless lives. There were many paths one could take in getting to know Beverly, but if your heart was open and the topic was nature, the shine in her would pour out into the conversation. She would share wisdom, like a loving grandmother sneaking you candy under the dinner table.
The following transcript is from the first few pages of a book Beverly self-published in 2000 called A Guide to Natural Treasures of Northeast Florida. She describes indigenous teaching tools she rediscovered during her awaking to nature. When an elder speaks, there are usually layers of information. The deeper you look, the more you’ll find. Here is an example of her method for teaching deeper ecological concepts for the mind/heart to understand. I have added a few of my own thoughts to expand upon some of Beverly’s concepts.
The Learning Process
Learning about the natural characteristics of the area you inhabit is a lot like the process a child undergoes as it matures. We can set ourselves on that road to learning by first taking tiny baby steps. Getting started is key to learning about our place on the planet.
Tiny babies know almost nothing about the world around them, yet they can recognize their mother’s heart beat and voice. They are sensitive to hot and cold, to loud sounds and to the soft crooning of lullabies.
Stop and be still. Awaken your senses (all of them), quiet the mind, and truly be in the now.
At times passes, they begin to show preferences for colors. They feel safe in their own rooms. At a more advanced age, they explore the whole house, learning where sharp corners are located and where the rug will trip them. In a few more years they will be outside, exploring their blocks and getting to know the neighbors.
Step out of your comfort zone and stretch your senses in a controlled environment. Go deeper and expand beyond that to which you are accustomed. Challenge yourself to strengthen your skills for the next step. Learn about the dangers in order to educate yourself, not to create fear. Reach out and find allies in this journey.
This is when children are the most ambitious to learn all the answers to what, where, when, why and how. They ask a million questions and aren’t content until they have explored every subject.
Explore until everything is exhausted. Play until you drop and need rest. Discover the QUEST in your questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how. Do this before you ask a mentor or teacher! These are concepts that were encouraged by Elders across the world throughout time. A fun game to play is to find one mystery in nature and to create a list of questions. Make your goal to start with 100 questions don’t worry about the answers – some will come by asking the questions.
When they go to school, they find many new things to learn. Often, this is where a turning point takes place. They begin to become familiar with television, computers, electronic games and much more. Often, in their exuberance to learn all these things, they forget about the fun of learning about nature and the great outdoors.
We can all hit a wall in our learning process. Don’t let it stop you. Distractions can just be a fork in the road. This is the time to create goals and objectives. Use allies and teachers to help guide and focus you towards your goal.
They may not get the opportunity to make their own entertainment among the fields and grasses or the leaves and woods. Streams and mountains go unseen, birds are unheard, flowers un-smelled, fuzzy cattails are unfelt and the sweet berries untasted. The natural wonders available are viewed only on the television screen.
Your turn: what lessons can you see in here? Can you relate to this statement?
Often, this is why some of us grow up knowing nothing about our own back yards. We may have seen all the wonders of the world without leaving the couch but we haven’t a clue as to where our local food is grown or what the next phase of the moon will be.
With the help of this little booklet, maybe we can begin to take some tiny baby steps to learn more about the area we live in. We need to know what kind of soil we live on and where our water comes from.
If we try, we can learn to identify an eagle from an osprey, a monarch butterfly form a viceroy butterfly, a green-eyed daisy from blue-eyed grass. We can learn to hear the wind through the pines and crickets in the grass. Frogs will croak and birds will sing and we will know them by their voices.
Kinship is described in the statement, “we will know them by their voices.” The concept of a native human to an area has been described by some as one who lives close to the landscape and has gained a community acceptance with the natural communities.
We can feel the smooth bark of a wild cherry tree or the rough-textured bark of an oak. And as we learn to tell the differences, we will also learn about the sameness of each thing in our universe. Are the grains of sand in our back yard related to the rocks along the Appalachian Trail? How is that connection made?
There is a lot to unpack here. All life is connected with both living and non-animate things. Each are connected to the next, and if one thing is affected, then so is the other. One must choose to experience it. For example, tracks in the soil are connected to their maker by a silver string some can see and other choose not to see.
As we learn about our bio region, we can expect to become more aware of the connections between the things in our immediate area and the things in other areas. We will be able to compare the laws of nature to the laws of our land. We may find ways of relating to plants and animals we never thought of before.
A group discussion is in order for this one. What do you think?
And after we have learned more about our own region, we may also be able to better understand the web of connections among all living things, not only in our area, but in all areas. The things we do to each other are the very things we do to ourselves in the long run. As we become more comfortable with our awareness, we may find ways of changing our behavior to better reflect how we can live in harmony with other living things of the world.
Beverly J. Fleming July 1st 2000
Go deep and you will find magic here. Beverly is not just talking about nature anymore. When I work on myself to grow and evolve, the environment and people that surround me will grow and evolve to meet me. We can evolve towards sustainability for all life on Earth, but this takes awareness and a choice.
If you follow these simple lessons and use them as guidelines toward establishing a relationship with nature, you will experience something really magical. I do believe this was Beverly’s intention. And I hope my notes are able to help shed a little bit of light on a few of the deeper layers. As you read this book, look for the hidden and the not-so-hidden messages. Some are very relevant to modern times and I’m sure will remain applicable for years to come.
The Legacy of the Ditch Witches
For those of you who knew one or all four of the ladies lovingly referred as the ‘Ditch Witches,’ I know you will enjoy a new book called the Legacy of the Ditch Witches scheduled to be published in 2021, By the Stetson Kennedy Foundation. I hope it connects you to their everlasting love of nature and the human world they continued to embrace throughout their lives. For those who didn’t know them, I hope this can be a step towards learning their wisdom. Follow it, and go through your own heart/mind journey into the wilderness, or just off the road into your local ditch.